FATHER VIACHESLAV: FROM CHURCH TO MOSQUE

by Alexander Soldatov
Moskovskie novosti, 8-14 March 2000

http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/9906b.html#10

Viacheslav Polosin, a former priest of the Russian Orthodox church 
and chairman of the Committee of the Supreme Soviet on Freedom of 
Conscience, recently announced his conversion from Orthodoxy to 
Islam. This unprecedented event of the adoption of the religion of 
the Prophet by a prominent Orthodox clergyman was a surprise for 
many. The former archpriest is suspected of psychological illness or 
of subtle political calculation. But he himself speaks of his own 
free, spiritual, philosophical choice. 

--As far as I know, this is the second time in your life when you 
have officially announced a change in your worldview? 

--From childhood I believed in God, in my spirit. Later, when I was 
in the university, I came across Orthodox literature and went to the 
church and found there something that I had not seen in philosophy 
classes. I do not regret that; I learned a lot there. I submitted my 
documents to the ecclesiastical seminary in 1979 and have now, after 
twenty years, given an interview to the journal "Musulmane;" these 
are two stages in the development of my life. 

Interview with Musulmane 

"Several years of intense work have brought me to the conclusion that 
the Koran does not contain an assimilation of the Creator God to his 
creation, humanity, which is anthropomorphism, the essence of 
paganism. There is no basis for the ritual practice of appeasing God 
like some kind of human ruler. . . . I have decided to bring my 
social status into conformity with my convictions and to bear public 
testimony that I consider myself a follower of the great tradition of 
the correct belief and of the prophets of monotheism, beginning with 
Abraham, and thus I do not consider myself any longer either a 
clergyman or a member of any Orthodox church. . . . As regards 
possible penalties, we all are mortal and all sooner or later will 
depart from this life, so it is better to depart from it abiding in 
the Truth and not in spiritual ambivalence or in the delusions of 
human fantasy. With regard to the practical difficulties, including 
the Arabic language, I must place my hopes in help and cooperation 
from my new brethren. My will fully shares this worldview choice." 

--How did your clerical path evolve? 

--Within the church circles of Moscow I was not "my own person." 
There also were family circumstances which forced me to request 
ministry in Central Asia. I served briefly in Frunze and somewhat 
longer in Dushanbe. There I dealt with Islamic culture and the 
eastern mentality for the first time, which made a deep impression on 
my soul. After half a year I was ignominiously deprived of my 
registration for disobedience to secular authorities, that is, to the 
commissioner for religious affairs. For three year I was not accepted 
anywhere and was in complete disgrace. In 1988, when perestroika 
began, I was offered a half-destroyed church near Obninsk. From there 
I was elected in 1990 as a member of the soviet of the RSFSR. 

The position of the Moscow patriarchate 

For the Moscow patriarchate, the announcement by Archpriest 
Viacheslav Polosin of his conversion to another faith came as a 
complete surprise. In the Department of External Church Relations his 
move is explained as instability of character and convictions and a 
quick "subsequent change" of religious views is predicted. In the 
patriarchate there is an inclination to let the matter drop, relying 
on the decision of Fr Viacheslav's ruling bishop, Archbishop Kliment 
of Kaluga and Borovsk. 

--Were you suspected of conversion to protestantism? 

--American protestants, who in 1991 arrived in Russia in abundance 
and whom I received, proposed that we begin our meeting with prayer. 
But I categorically objected, saying that this was a secular 
institution and that I protected freedom of conscience and thus there 
must not be any prayer here. I was cordial with protestants, but 
where this rumor that I wanted to adopt protestantism came from, I 
don't know. 

--For many it is a puzzle what your real position on the new law on 
freedom of conscience of 1997 is. Some consider you its author and 
some recall that you have frequently criticized the law itself. 

--As long as I am a state employee I cannot discuss the whole truth 
about this law. I participated in the writing of this law as one of 
fifteen members of the working group and I had very little influence. 
Then the law was presented to the duma where work on it went forward. 
I can consider myself a coauthor of what resulted from this work. But 
the demonization of the law was necessary to those circles and forces 
who figured on being able to make a name and money for themselves on 
the basis of the negative events that arose around the country. 
Actually the law upheld the principles of a secular state and 
maintained the situation. 

--Was your religious quest provoked by your displeasure with formal 
Orthodoxy? 

--While I was working in the state apparatus I began to see more 
clearly how various activities within the church or politics affect 
the life of the people. Some people try to interpret Christianity so 
as to justify the irresponsibility of the government, giving it an 
image of divine ordination. 

--There are similar examples in the history of the Islamic world: 
khans, Turkish sultans, palace intrigues of the Sublime Porte. 

--In the Koran viewing the government as "God's anointed" is strictly 
forbidden. It is said that if someone usurps power and a Muslim 
tolerates this, then he is an accessory to this sin. In the Ottoman 
empire there was a stagnation of Muslim culture--the cult of the 
military, violence, slavery. Islam degenerated there. The Revelation 
itself is a different matter. 

--What has been the reaction of your new Muslim brethren to your 
decision? 

--My interview with the journal Musulmane provoked lively interest, 
so much so that it was necessary to put out another printing. 

--What has been the reaction on the part of your leadership in the 
duma? 

--Some naturally will be unhappy, but I don't care to please 
everyone. I think that nothing will change in my work in the duma. I 
do not intend to criticize Christianity. When I was within Orthodoxy, 
I criticized it rather harshly. Now I don't. Islam, as it is 
presented in the Koran, is the most democratic religion because it 
contains a prohibition of tyranny; vis-a-vis the Creator is the 
people, society on earth. There are no mediators of a priestly caste 
or anointed monarchs in the Koran. 

Viacheslav Polosin's office 

In the State Duma he occupies one office along with Murad Zaprishiev, 
a former deputy and now an employee of the staff of the duma 
Committee for Relations with Public Associations and Religious 
Organizations. In a prominent place in the office there is the Koran 
and the walls are decorated with Arabic inscriptions. In this office 
Polosin and his colleague sometimes perform their prayers, for which 
they use a special rug. At the same time, Viacheslav Sergeevich 
opposes making a demonstrative profession of Islam in his secular 
work and especially in governmental service. 

--Do you have plans to return to a more political life? 

--For the time being, no. I would prefer to use my profession and 
knowledge for socially useful activity within the bounds of Islam. I 
see myself as a public and academic Islamic leader, but not a 
politician. But what the future will bring, only God knows. In 1990 
my election as a deputy also was unexpected. 

INFORMATION: Viacheslav Sergeevich Polosin was born in 1956. In 1979 
he graduated from the Philosophy Faculty of MGU and in 1984 from the 
Moscow Ecclesiastical Seminary. He was ordained a priest and served 
in parishes in the dioceses of Central Asia and Kaluga of RPTs. In 
1990 he was elevated to the rank of archpriest. In the same year he 
was elected a people's deputy of RSFSR from Kaluga region and headed 
the committee of the Supreme Soviet on freedom of conscience. While 
working in the Supreme Soviet, he graduated from the diplomatic 
academy of the ministry of foreign affairs and defended his 
dissertation on the subject: "The Russian Orthodox church and the 
state in USSR, 1971-1991." From 1993 he has been an employee of the 
staff of the State Duma on relations with public associations and 
religious organizations. He was a member of the Russian Christian 
Democratic Movement and a member of the Council of Christian 
Organizations. In 1991 he went on leave from the Kaluga diocese and 
since 1995 he has not officiated in liturgies. In his interview with 
the Musulmane journal, he officially called himself a Muslim: "I 
consider that the Koran is the final Revelation on earth, sent down 
to the Prophet Muhammed. There is no God but the One God, Allah, and 
Muhammed is his Messenger." Viacheslav Polosin is the author of many 
scholarly works on historical,political, religious, and philosophical 
subjects. In February of this year he defended another dissertation 
on the subject: "The dialectics of myth and political myth-making." 
His basic philosophical ideas are presented in his book "Myth, 
Religion, and the State" (Moscow, 1999). 

>From the point of view of Islamic theologians, to convert to the 
religion of the Prophet it is sufficient to recite the famous formula 
containing the profession of faith in the one God Allah and his 
prophet Muhammed. In doing so it is not important which language is 
used for reciting the formula. It is important that the recitation be 
made before two witnesses who are Muslim and can give written 
confirmation of the fact of the profession of Islam. (ININ note - this
is not true. Once could be in the desert and make shahadah and it would 
be accepted) 





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